Rape Victim Testifies in Erick Howard Trial
The woman was one of three to testify in the trial of Erick M. Howard Tuesday
A 21-year-year-old North Canton woman recounted the most terrifying night of her life before a full courtroom. She spoke of Aug. 20, the night when she was bound and raped with a gun to her head.
The woman testified in the trial of Erick M. Howard, 20, who is accused of breaking into the woman's apartment that she shared with her boyfriend, tying them both up and robbing them at gunpoint.
Howard, a Hoover High grad and two-time Mr. Football recipient, turned himself in Oct. 4 and is charged with aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, rape and kidnapping, all carrying a firearm specification. His trial began Monday in Stark County Common Pleas Court.
The female victim, who will not be named to protect her identity, told those in Judge Taryn L. Heath's courtroom Tuesday that two men, both dressed in dark clothing and wearing ski masks, broke through her basement window and entered her bedroom where she was sleeping with her boyfriend. The two lived in Meadowbrook Apartments in the 1100 block of Sunford Avenue.
"I started to scream as loud as I could in hopes that someone hears me," the woman said. "And then I heard someone yell 'Shut up; grab the phone.'"
She said the men used the light from the couple's cellphones in order to see in the dark bedroom. They worked together to bound the couple's ankles and wrists and tape over their mouths.
The woman said the larger of the two men, who she believed was Howard, raped her and taunted her, saying "Do you want to live or die" and "Drugs make me do crazy things."
She said the men threatened them one last time before they left, saying "If you tell anyone, I will come back and kill you."
The victims, who were naked during the incident, were able to tear the duct tape from themselves, put on clothes and run to the closest neighbor's home to call the police.
The woman was taken by ambulance to Mercy Medical Center, where they performed a rape kit.
The couple had about $1,500 lying on a nightstand in the bedroom, and the men took that cash, their phones and other items. The woman said they had been saving up for a vacation, which they went on immediately following the incident.
While on the vacation, the female victim called her mother and asked her to Google "Erick Howard." The woman had been given the name from a friend who read about the home invasion on North Canton Patch and suspected Howard was involved.
"I just wanted to see what they could find — anything to help me identify him," she said.
Her mother, who also testified Tuesday, found a Canton Repository YouTube video and played it over the phone for her daughter.
"I recognized (the voice), just like that," the woman said, snapping her fingers.
Defense Attorney Rufus Sims argued on Jan. 13 that the YouTube identification by the female victim should not be admissible as evidence in the trial, but Heath overruled the motion.
In Sims' opening statement Tuesday, he spoke of the credibility of the state's witnesses, saying the two co-defendents, Seth R. Obermiller and Michael A. Taylor, are both convicted felons. (Taylor drove the getaway car, and Obermiller robbed the couple.) Sims also said the two victims are "drug dealers" because they sold marijuana out of their home.
"Go where the evidence leads you in this case," Sims said. "Once you assess the credibility of the state's key witnesses, we think you will come back with the only reasonable conclusion in this case, and that's not guilty on all counts."
Assistant Stark County Prosecutor Chryssa Hartnett said during her opening statement that the jurors will learn about how that night's plan to rob the couple formulated. They'll also see video footage of Howard buying gloves at Wal-Mart before the incident.
Jurors also will hear from a friend of Howard's who says he lent Howard the gun used that night.
"At the end of the case, everything will show Erick Howard is guilty, and his actions will constitute the charges that are placed against him," Hartnett said. "Ladies and gentlemen, he got caught just like anyone else."
The trial continues with more testimony today in Heath's courtroom.
OTHERS SENTENCED IN THE CRIME
Seth R. Obermiller, 19, who turned himself in Sept. 29, was sentenced to seven years in a state correctional institute. Obermiller helped tie up the couple and rob them and rape the female victim. He was found guilty of kidnapping, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery, with all charges accompanied by gun specifications.
Michael A. Taylor, 20, of North Canton, was sentenced to three years of probation and turned himself in Sept. 28. Taylor drove the getaway car that night. He was found guilty of attempt to commit burglary, a third-degree felony.